Happy Feet Two
(Rental—Apple, Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, etc.—from $3.99)
Between winning an Oscar for the wonderful Happy Feet (2006) and blowing away nearly everyone with Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Australian George Miller understandably made this sequel. But even though Happy Feet Two (2011) is filled with Miller’s usual kinetic, slick filmmaking mastery, some great humor, and some daringly dark storytelling, it was met with surprisingly grumpy reviews and poor box office.
It focuses on the son of Mumble and Gloria, Erik (voiced by the talented E.G. Daily), who isn’t interested in singing or dancing and decides he very much wants to fly. So he sets out on an epic adventure to try to do just that. The late, great Robin Williams returns as the voice of Ramon, but the movie’s funniest bit involves a couple of krill, Will and Bill (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon), who suddenly decide to do something different, like becoming carnivores. Elijah Wood, Alecia “Pink” Moore (who takes over the role of Gloria from the late Brittany Murphy), and Sofia Vergara provide other voices.
Some major money-losers were simply the victims of bad timing, wrongheaded expectations, or a changing of public mood. Directed by Michael Lehmann and written by Daniel Waters on the heels of their cult classic Heathers, Hudson Hawk (1991) very simply made the mistake of being a Bruce Willis movie that wasn’t Die Hard.
Willis plays the title character, a master burglar and safe-cracker who gets out of jail and immediately finds himself embroiled in a bizarre scheme; two nutty villains (Sandra Bernhard and Richard E. Grant) wish to build a Leonardo da Vinci gold-making machine, but they need Hawk to steal several pieces of da Vinci art to make it work. The movie is totally goofball and plenty of fun—one sequence contains a burglary timed to the tune of “Swingin’ on a Star”—and viewers wanted nothing to do with it. It received terrible reviews and earned only about $17.5 million on its $65 budget (a high price tag for 1991).
Jack and Jill
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Watching Adam Sandler in another Thanksgiving-related movie, Funny People, may provide some warm holiday fuzzies, but it’s unlikely that this travesty will do the same. Jack and Jill (2011) is one of Sandler’s most loathed comedies, sporting a whopping 3% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Sandler turns in a fairly lazy performance in his role of Jack, a producer of commercials. But then he goes completely crazy (and borderline offensive) in drag, playing Jack’s shrill twin sister Jill, who visits for the Thanksgiving holiday. Jack decides that he can get Jill off his back if he can set her up with a man: Al Pacino. Curiously, Pacino agreed to play himself in this, and it’s a head-scratchingly unfunny, embarrassing bit of work. Katie Holmes plays Jack’s wife, and Sandler’s pals David Spade, Tim Meadows, Nick Swardson, Norm MacDonald, Dana Carvey, and Rob Schneider appear in small roles. At least it’s rated PG.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
This poor, much-hated turkey could conceivably end the debate over whether superhero movies are actually movies. Somehow, the exploitation kings Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan got their mitts on the rights to this series and set out to produce a low-budget sequel to the big budget hits that came before. The villain, “Nuclear Man,” is awful, and the visual effects are laughable, some of the plot turns are questionable, and the well-intentioned pro-peace theme just entirely misses.
But what Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) has going for it is its great cast (Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, and, briefly, Margot Kidder, all return, and Mariel Hemingway and Jon Cryer join in), and its scrappy, can-do attitude. In a weird way, this 90-minute oddity is far more interesting, and has more personality, than the bloated, humorless Man of Steel (2013). Watch this in a double-bill with the even worse Batman & Robin (1997).
Disney’s Treasure Planet (2002) arrived Thanksgiving weekend amidst middling reviews and general malaise from moviegoers; it didn’t come anywhere close to its budget of $140 million and became one of the studio’s biggest bombs. For their version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island in space, directors Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid) attempted a dazzling combination of hand-drawn characters placed over 3D backgrounds, and it looks terrific, agile and exciting.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt provides the voice of Jim Hawkins, who discovers a map of “Treasure Planet.” He boards a ship to find the treasure and save his mother’s inn. During the trip, he bonds with the ship’s cyborg cook, John Silver (voiced by Brian Murray), who may not be quite what he seems. David Hyde Pierce, Martin Short, and Emma Thompson provide other voices. Many complained that the characters were a bit flat, but seen today, the movie is quite funny and often surprisingly touching.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
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Fans that take their sci-fi seriously probably had no patience for this jaunty, dizzy futuristic adventure. It cost over $177 million and earned only $41 million in America. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) takes place in a huge collective of ships called “Alpha,” all docked together and helping one another. Unfortunately, there’s a radiation leak and some aliens and a power source and some corrupt officials; the plot doesn’t always make sense, but it allows for heroes Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) to go gallivanting about, getting into chases, rescuing each other, and bickering like a married couple.
Writer/director Luc Besson’s bright, fluid touch and lighthearted tone keeps things moving, despite a rather long 137-minute running time. Rihanna plays a pole-dancing shape-shifter, Ethan Hawke plays a pimp in a cowboy hat, and John Goodman voices a grotesque alien pirate. Clive Owen, Rutger Hauer, Mathieu Kassovitz, and Herbie Hancock co-star.
Also check out these Thanksgiving-set movies, all available for streaming: Deadfall (Hoopla), Home for the Holidays (Amazon Prime, Hulu), The House of Yes (Hoopla), Krisha (Kanopy), Pieces of April (Amazon Prime, Hulu), Private Life (Netflix), Rocky (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu), She’s Gotta Have It (Netflix), and What’s Cooking? (TubiTV).